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IN PRAISE OF ALEXANDER

 
 
Reply Mon 29 Nov, 2004 10:29 am
Pay no attention to the critics--ALEXANDER is the most exciting and cinematically audacious movie of the year. Not only does it tell one of the
greatest stories ever, it tells the story of Alexander with scrupulous fidelity
to the known history--maybe a first in movies dealing with antiquity. The
battle scenes are perhaps the best that have been filmed in the past 30 years. Colin Farrell more than rises to the occasion. Alexander's bisexuality is portrayed intelligently and sympathetically. Oliver Stone will laugh last, because his movie will survive
the mindless barrage of negativity launched at him by the critics. It is a real accomplishment.
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Type: Discussion • Score: 2 • Views: 2,775 • Replies: 21
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Lightwizard
 
  1  
Reply Mon 29 Nov, 2004 10:45 am
Wow! I asked what you loved about the film on the Critics forum but you've answered my question. As not much written history survived about Alexander, Stone had an opening for a lot of interpretation. More than one critic stated that the CGI "troops" were too obvious in many of the battle scenes but that the battle in India was well filmed. I'm not sure about its survival having done only a small percentage of its cost this weekend. Oliver had better hope it doesn't significantly drop this next week and survives by attracting a consistant audience.
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Bella Dea
 
  1  
Reply Mon 29 Nov, 2004 10:47 am
Plus you get to see Colin nekkid!
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cavfancier
 
  1  
Reply Mon 29 Nov, 2004 10:51 am
Kristie wrote:
Plus you get to see Colin nekkid!


Did they show the entire schlong, or was it edited?
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Bella Dea
 
  1  
Reply Mon 29 Nov, 2004 10:52 am
cavfancier wrote:
Kristie wrote:
Plus you get to see Colin nekkid!


Did they show the entire schlong, or was it edited?


dunno...didn't see it yet. But I heard that it was the whole enchilada. Very Happy
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Lightwizard
 
  1  
Reply Mon 29 Nov, 2004 11:03 am
Oh, no, how we've descend from discussing whether the film successfully portrayed the real Alexander or, like in "Tigerland," Colin has shown off more than just his dye job.
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cavfancier
 
  1  
Reply Mon 29 Nov, 2004 11:35 am
Laughing Sorry about the "Tigerland" thing...it's just become a legend.

Personally, I'll wait until Alexander comes out on digital cable. I like many of Stone's movies, but I'm just not willing to pay to see them anymore.

One thing that bothers me about Stone is his need to over explain. I often feel, when watching his films, like a sledgehammer is being pounded into my my head, with a 'point' attached.
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Bella Dea
 
  1  
Reply Mon 29 Nov, 2004 11:37 am
I just like historical films.
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Lightwizard
 
  1  
Reply Mon 29 Nov, 2004 03:33 pm
I usually love historical epics even when they tend to bend history for dramatic effect if they are well written and directed, and well acted. This isn't exactly new territory for Stone although quite a long stretch back into history for his style -- I would imagine there's a lot of the politics of the ancient era. The Richard Burton film was turgid and overdrawn, and the prints are terrible. I have an old VHS copy.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Mon 29 Nov, 2004 04:41 pm
I saw "Alexander" last night. I prefer to see these big, loud action movies on the big screen rather than waiting to rent them, and I hadn't been to my local independent theater in a while (in fact, not since "Fahrenheit 9/11"), so "Alexander" was a logical choice.

I haven't read many reviews, but I know the critics have been harsh. And, in my opinion, justifiably so. Most of the blame (about 90%) can be laid at the feet of Oliver Stone, who not only directed but co-wrote the screenplay.

In short, the story is a mess. I'm not sure what point Stone was trying to make -- whether it was to praise Alexander even as a flawed man (Anthony Hopkins, who, as Alexander's general Ptolemy, narrates the film, says something like "even his errors were greater than other men's triumphs"), or to suggest that Alexander's career could be traced to the psychological disaster made of his life by his parents, or that all great men are eventually brought low by fate (hinted at by all of the allusions to Prometheus, Herakles, and Achilles), or that it was some kind of love story between Alexander and Hephaestion. There was, in other words, no unifying thread connecting all of the disconnected episodes, which is something that a sprawling, three-hour historical epic desperately needs in order to maintain some sense of cohesiveness (perhaps Stone should have, like Alexander, read Aristotle's "Poetics" before starting out on his project).

The cohesion problem is not helped by having a lengthy flashback about three-quarters of the way into the film. If Alexander's life can be explained as a reaction against the assassination of his father, then why place this episode at such a late stage in the movie? It's especially annoying because, in the narration, Hopkins (rather offhandedly) tells of Phillip of Macedon's death in the first thirty minutes of the film.

Another problem -- and one to which all historical epics are prone -- is that the characters deliver speeches rather than recite dialogue. It's reminiscent of some of the old George Arliss biopics from the 1930s. Really, I thought this problem had finally been solved by the time of "Gandhi," but I guess it is an insidious virus.

And what the hell was Stone thinking casting Angelina Jolie as Olympias, Alexander's mother? First of all, she's not old enough (and she doesn't age at all as the film progresses). Secondly, she has one of the worst accents in the annals of film history (and I include Rob Morrow's Boston accent in "Quiz Show"). One reviewer described it as something like Natasha in the "Rocky and Bullwinkle" cartoon, and that's not far off the mark. Now, it is strange enough when the Macedonians all speak with Irish accents and the Greeks all speak like proper Brits, but then what does that make Jolie? Welsh?

As for Alexander's bisexuality: it's there and there's no mistaking it, but why is it there? Stone makes a rather big deal of it, but there's no telling why it's a big deal (except, maybe, for the shock value of seeing Colin Farrell kissing a guy). But then that goes back to my initial point about the story being a mess.

On the good side of the ledger, the battle scenes were way cool. I had no problem with the CGI: I thought they were even more impressive than some of the battle scenes in "Lord of the Rings," and I thought those were mighty impressive indeed. And Colin does drop trou on screen, but we only get to see a full-backal shot of him as he gets into bed (sorry, the rumors must remain unconfirmed).

EDIT: cleaned up some misspellings
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Lightwizard
 
  1  
Reply Mon 29 Nov, 2004 05:29 pm
A well written essay on the film, Joe, but the punch line was anti-climactic.
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larry richette
 
  1  
Reply Mon 29 Nov, 2004 09:59 pm
Dear joefromchicago: you are (forgive me) dead wrong in almost all your criticisms. The story of ALEXANDER is no more a "mess" than the story of THE LAST EMPEROR or LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, two films that came to mind as I
watched Stone's epic. Historical subjects just don't lend themselves to the sort of one-note obvious storytelling you seem to prefer. You're right about the flashback but all your other points are either wrongheaded or irrelevant. Jolie does well with a difficult part, she DOES age in the course of the movie, and her accent is no worse than Meryl Streep's in a dozen worse movies. I repeat, Oliver Stone is going to laugh
last--he has made the only BIG movie of 2004 to come out of the Hollywood studios. Just compare it with the abortion that Scorsese produced in GANGS OF NEW YORK if you want to see my point.
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stuh505
 
  1  
Reply Mon 29 Nov, 2004 10:27 pm
Larry,

I fail to see how the messy plot of The Last Emporor and Lawrence of Arabia, or the bad accent of Meryl Streep, or the film Gangs of New York...can be used as any kind of excuse for the failings of Alexander!

Joe wrote a nice and thorough review, and his comments were valid opinions that you really shouldn't discredit with sure assuredness.
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Lightwizard
 
  1  
Reply Tue 30 Nov, 2004 09:13 am
By "BIG" (with a nod to Tom Hanks) movie, you might mean big box office if Mr. Stone is going to have anything to laugh about? Gibson certainly didn't expect the big box office of "Passion" but did he laugh? He snickered a bit, using some of the profits to make yet another sitcom. "Alexander" is at about 9% favorable reviews, just about tying the trouncing the major critics gave "Passion" (rightly so as far as I'm concerned). I question whether or not this movie will be a box office success, not that this means a lot. I'm sure Stone didn't make it purely out of a labor of love with no thought of how much money it could make. I believe he purposefully made it as a big box office winner. I was astounded that "Troy" did as well as it did but there's no predicting what will happen with Brad Pitt in a skirt and who actually looks good in blond.
I really wonder how it came about the Alexander had to be a blond, an affectation that worries me about the purpose of the film (Burton also looked foolish in blond).

I've read the reviews -- there are a couple of mainstream reviewers that liked the film for what is, I interpret, its grandiose, almost campy flamboyance. The New York Times Review is scathingly bad. Roeper, as I've said, gave it a good review for the above reason. Still not convinced it's worth a night out and the ticket price. I also find that historical dramas have a problem with unintentionally funny highbrow speech making.

"Lawrence of Arabia" is, in my book, the best of all historical films not overtly reliant on special effects or at least not obvious special effects. Ah, what CGI has unleashed -- there's an inherent artificiality a director must overcome in using them. "The Lord of the Rings" as a fantasy film demanded them and the were used in good results. Many artistic CGI effects were dazzling in the recent "Hero" (I just saw it again on DVD), including the seamlessly enhanced battle scenes. It brought out memories of "Ran" as far as artistic integrity with the aesthetically composed combat scenes a feast for the eyes, not that I expected anything less from the director of "Raise the Red Lantern". "The Last Emperor" is in this category of visually beautiful films with the strength of a great core story to tell. There is no campy flamboyance in these films. I have trouble getting past the visual's of Colin's bad dye job -- it looks like off-the-shelf blond for surfers.

What are the dozen bad Meryl Streep movies? Is this a pet peeve? I only could see one valid comparison to "Alex" (as epic historical films) and that would be "Out of Africa," not my favorite slow film but I like the score and many of the scenes. I can't think of one Streep film I would go back to except "Angels in America," the best effort of her career (where she did nail an Ethel Rosenberg accent nicely).

I didn't find "Gangs of New York" that bad but it pales in comparison of "Goodfellas" and "Mean Streets." Actually my favorite recent Scorcese is his filming of "Madame Butterfly." His biopic of Howard Hughes is coming out soon and my expectations are low. I might take my Mom because she worked for Hughes.

One last word on Gibson -- his professed piety doesn't look good clothed in the smarmy cop part on his own new TV series "Complete Savages." It was funny at first but is bogging down in script problems that keep retelling the same joke. Gibson should beware of telling the same old story.
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larry richette
 
  1  
Reply Tue 30 Nov, 2004 09:15 am
Stuh: I wasn't using my comparisons as excuses, merely to illustrate that historical films--and actresses with heavy accents--may seem awkward but are really not exceptions to the rules of good filmmaking. I only brought in GANGS OF NEW YORK as an example of a dead, inert epic film next to which ALEXANDER's vitality and liveliness look pretty damn good.
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larry richette
 
  1  
Reply Tue 30 Nov, 2004 09:26 am
Lioghtwizard--I agree with you that LAWRENCE is the best of the historical epics. Definitely. But I fear you attach too much importance to the box office and to critics. Stone has made other films which did well with neither and so he can laugh last because they were strong, accomplished movies (I'm thinking of SALVADOR and NIXON.) As far as Meryl Streep, her accents are almost always awful--with one exception, PLENTY. Otherwise I find her a grossly overrated actress. She has been in many, many bad movies--ever see FALLING IN LOVE or HEARTBURN? We're going to have to agree to disagree on GANGS OF NEW YORK--I found it hideously bad, probably the low point of Scorsese's career--even worse than CAPE FEAR, which he never should have remade.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Tue 30 Nov, 2004 09:48 am
larry richette wrote:
Dear joefromchicago: you are (forgive me) dead wrong in almost all your criticisms. The story of ALEXANDER is no more a "mess" than the story of THE LAST EMPEROR or LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, two films that came to mind as I
watched Stone's epic. Historical subjects just don't lend themselves to the sort of one-note obvious storytelling you seem to prefer. You're right about the flashback but all your other points are either wrongheaded or irrelevant. Jolie does well with a difficult part, she DOES age in the course of the movie, and her accent is no worse than Meryl Streep's in a dozen worse movies. I repeat, Oliver Stone is going to laugh

Dear larry, I won't attempt to refute your assessment of "Alexander," since I don't think such a thing is possible. We clearly have very different views of the film, but those views are entirely subjective. Chacun a son gout. Anyone who watches this film will be able to judge it for themselves.

I can, however, take issue with some of your assumptions about me, and also make a few additional remarks about the film. You're wrong that I prefer "one-note obvious storytelling" (whatever that means): I'm quite happy to see a film tell a coherent story in whatever fashion that suits the story itself. "Rashomon" is a great film, but the story is anything but linear. Likewise, I think both "Lawrence of Arabia" and "The Last Emperor" are masterpieces of storytelling. In contrast, "Alexander" is a mess. A good example is the late flashback (which you also seem to have disliked). Not only is the flashback placed too late in the film, but the entire movie is framed as a flashback -- Ptolemy's flashback. The flashback to Phillip of Macedon's murder, however, appears to have been Alexander's flashback. Now, how did Alexander's flashback end up in Ptolemy's flashback? Was Ptolemy somehow chanelling Alexander's spirit? Was Ptolemy relating a flashback that Alexander had mentioned to him? Or did Oliver Stone just forget that he was already using Ptolemy's extended flashback as a framing device when he wrote a flashback for Alexander?

As for Jolie, I could discern no aging on her part throughout the course of the film. At most, she changed her hairstyle and Stone shot her in low light or through a filter for her later scenes. That's it.

As for accents, I know that Streep gets a bad rap for adopting new accents for practically every picture, and for some actors it can seem like getting into an accent is a rather cheap substitute for getting into a character. But I have never seen a Streep film where I thought she adopted an accent for the sole purpose of adopting an accent. If she adopts an accent, it's because the character (or her interpretation of the character) demands it. In contrast, there is no earthly reason why Jolie should be speaking like a gypsy fortune-teller from some 1940s "Wolfman" movie. Indeed, there's no reason for any of the actors to adopt any kind of accent. After all, everyone is Greek or Persian: why is a British or Irish or bogus Russian accent any more authentic or believable than a regular old American accent? Just like Jared Leto's half-hearted attempt at an Irish brogue, Jolie's accent wasn't just bad, it was completely unnecessary -- which makes it even worse than bad.
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larry richette
 
  1  
Reply Tue 30 Nov, 2004 10:01 am
Joefrom chicago, you are still wrong. Jolie played Olympias with an accent because the queen came from a foreign land far from Macedon and was perceived by everyone in Macedon as an outsider. Mary Renault describes her exactly in this way, right down to the accent, in her brilliant novel about Alexander's youth FIRE FROM HEAVEN. You are trumped by the history. Sorry, but those are the facts that have come down to us from antiquity.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Tue 30 Nov, 2004 10:18 am
larry richette wrote:
Joefrom chicago, you are still wrong. Jolie played Olympias with an accent because the queen came from a foreign land far from Macedon and was perceived by everyone in Macedon as an outsider.

Since Stone decided that all of the Macedonians would speak with Irish accents and all the Greeks would speak with British accents, Jolie could have simply spoken in an American accent and she would have been just as "foreign." It wasn't necessary for her to talk like Maria Ouspenskaya in order to stand out.

larry richette wrote:
Mary Renault describes her exactly in this way, right down to the accent, in her brilliant novel about Alexander's youth FIRE FROM HEAVEN. You are trumped by the history. Sorry, but those are the facts that have come down to us from antiquity.

I don't think I'd be quoting Mary Renault as an authority on ancient history. In any event, she couldn't possibly have said that Olympias talked with a Russian accent -- given that Olympias wasn't Russian and that there was no such thing as either Russia or the Russian language at that time.
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Lightwizard
 
  1  
Reply Tue 30 Nov, 2004 11:37 am
I qualified what I think about box office but I'm confused as to what one means by a "BIG" film. Big money spent? Big ideas? Big lines? Big ego?
Convenient sidestepping of the writing on the wall that the film is likely to be a commercial flop.

When nearly all the important critics pan a film my ears do prick up (ah, one of my favorite films, "Prick Up Your Ears.") What I'm reading is this is a misguided effort with enough flaws to relegate it to mediocrity. As Joe wrote, Chacun a son gout, not that I feel any danger of this movie giving me mental gout. I'm just not convinced it's worth putting down my paint brushes, not logging onto A2K, not listening to classical music or jazz, not spinning a great movie on DVD (watching the restoration of "Metropolis" in a few minutes), getting a date and going to see it. I've been called as a matter of fact to go see it and turned it down (I am convincing, so we went to see another movie, "Finding Neverland" which I liked a lot). Not having to pay for the ticket could have been an incentive but since I can see most films for free on preview (well, including a long boring drive through L.A. traffic and trying to find parking in Hollywood -- I usually end up staying overnight there), I wasn't impressed enough by the minority of good reviews.

As to "Lawrence," I saw the re-release on an enormous THX screen and it's still a magnificent movie which will likely never be approached in quality in my lifetime. Incidentally, what did anyone think of the Vangelis score considering the "Lawrence" score is a classic with a big tune that I defy one gets out of their head after they've just heard it. The only other big tunes that stand out for me in movie music are in the relatively bad "Raise the Titanic," "Helen of Troy," "Four Horseman of the Apocalypse" (Andre Previn) and the flying themes in "Blue Max" and "Out of Africa." Hey, right now I'd like to put on the "Le Hot Jazz"
number from "Victor Victoria" which I played for the family on Thanksgiving Day. I could watch that over and over and Robert Preston's purposefully campy Spanish matron number at the end of the film (ROLF).

I find Streep's accents have contributed to some annoying mannerisms in her performance. Didn't bother me in "Out of Africa" and it she was able to completely step out of herself in the various roles in "Angels in America," especially the insulting, cloying Ethel giving Al Pacino's Roy a thorough and deserved bashing right to the end.

The reviews of this film somehow remind me of the review I wrote long, long ago for "Cromwell," a laugh a minute dialogue mess. If Stone tried again to emulate Shakespeare in this epic, I probably will have the same opinion. Since I likely won't see it until it arrives on DVD (by the box office, not so far off), I refrain from giving the any impression of bias and will stop.
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